Why Open Education and Open Educational Resources (OER)?

“Textbook prices are only part of the access barrier issue. As teaching and learning shift fully online during the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have been forced to more closely consider and analyze how copyright restrictions set by publishers may limit their students’ access to these essential learning materials.”

Read more: What’s “Open” During COVID-19? In a Global Pandemic OER and Open Access Matter More than Ever by Lindsey Gumb, Fellow, Open Education


What is Open Education and Open Educational Resources (OER)?

This graphic depicts the 5R's of OER: reuse, revise, remix, redistribute and retainIn her 2019 keynote at the Open Education Global Conference, Cheryl-Ann Hodgkinson-Williams of the University of Cape Town in South Africa defined “open education” as an umbrella term that encompasses the products, practices and communities associated with this work. The common term that represents the products of Open Education is OER (Open Educational Resources). OER are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, adaptation, and redistribution by others. OER can be print or digital. Click here to access the OER Starter Kit to learn more about the fundamentals of OER.

What is an open license?

An open license permits users of a resource to participate in the 5R activities of OER:

  • Retain:  Make, own, and control your own copy of content
  • Reuse:   Use the content as-is
  • Revise:  Adapt, adjust, modify, improve, or alter the content
  • Remix:  Combine the original or revised content with other OER to create something new
  • Redistribute:  Share your copies of the original content, revisions or remixes with others

The vast majority of open textbooks have a Creative Commons license that allows for editing, adapting and making derivatives. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses here.

What is an open textbook and do I need permission to use it?

An open textbook is just like a traditional textbook in terms of content, but it has a license that makes it free for anyone to access, redistribute and retain in perpetuity, and in many cases revise and remix the content to make a customized copy. The author, or the copyright holder, gives you explicit permission to use an open textbook just by giving it an open license.



Is OER and Inclusive Access the same thing?

Like OER, inclusive access models aim to ensure that all students have access to their learning materials on day one of class, but the cost is rolled into their tuition (OER is free).  Students lose access to these materials after the semester ends because of copyright restrictions and license agreements between the publisher and the institution. True OER, in contrast, allow students to retain their learning content in perpetuity, serving students and learners of all ages and stages. This is important for students who may have to retake a course or who are enrolled in a sequence (ex. Biology I and Biology II), where having access to the previous semester's book is essential.

What is Open Pedagogy?

While the Open Ed community emerged to address the rising cost of textbooks, practitioners quickly realized that openly licensed materials allow for innovative, learner-centric pedagogies. Educators are engaging their students in content creation and seeing the impact of their learning through this "open pedagogy." Even in the Open Ed community, the term Open pedagogy takes on several different definitions depending on who you ask. To learn more about what several practitioners are doing and how they define it, check out the Open Pedagogy Notebook.

Open Education in New England States

Click on a state to learn more about its efforts towards supporting Open Education.

What we’re reading about OPEN:


Florida Virtual Campus Office of Distance Learning and Student Services conducted a large-scale study in 2018 to examine textbook affordability and the associated implications. Among the many key findings, notably the cost of textbooks negatively impacts student access to required materials and learning. The top 5 highest percentage answers as a result of the high cost of textbooks are: not purchasing the required textbook (64%); taking fewer courses (43%); not registering for a specific course (41%); earning a poor grade (36%); and dropping a course (23%). 

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A recent study by Colvard, Watson & Park (2018) found that “… OER adoption does much more than simply save students money and address student debt concerns. OER improve end-of-course grades and decrease DFW (D, F, and Withdrawal letter grades) rates for all students. They also improve course grades at greater rates and decrease DFW rates at greater rates for Pell recipient students, part-time students, and populations historically underserved by higher education.”  

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Inclusive access

Like OER, inclusive access models aim to ensure that all students have access to their learning materials on day one of class, but the major difference is that OER are free and inclusive access is not. Colleges and universities sign inclusive access contracts with publishing companies that then add the materials cost directly to the student’s tuition bill, also known as “automatic textbook billing.” In February 2020, U.S. PIRG Education Fund reviewed 31 of these such contracts across the country affecting more than 700,000 students and issued a report revealing a significant amount of the contracts “fail to deliver real savings for students, reduce faculty and student choice, and give even more power to a handful of big publishing companies.” 

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